(c) Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary
East of the West Grand prix - How Viktor "the Garlic" Took Alexey "the Stud" to the Nursing Home (Film Director Alexander Hant (right) with producer Feodor Popov (middle) and Director of Photography Daniil Fomichev (left))
Name: Cora Frischling
Interview with Alexander Hant
Director of How Viktor "the Garlic" Took Alexey "the Stud" to the Nursing Home (RU)
KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - East of the West Competition
When Alexander Hant stepped onto the stage of the beautiful Pupp cinema in Karlovy Vary to present his film How Viktor “the Garlic” Took Alexey “the Stud” to the Nursing Home, he pulled out a note and greeted the audience in Czech. Everybody burst out laughing. Then the translator stepped to the front and said: Hello, I’m very happy to be here. I would have never thought something like that could happen. Thank you for being here!
Great, I thought. Either something was lost in translation, or I was about to see a film by a guy whose humour I didn’t get at all. Luckily, this wasn’t the case.
In the film, a man called Viktor finds out that his sick father (whom he hasn’t seen since his childhood) could potentially leave him a nice flat. Motivated by the wish to escape his family and to build a love nest for his lover, he sets out to bring the father to a nursing home. His dad’s past, far from innocent, causes him and this endeavour to become much more of a nuisance than Viktor expected.
We sat down at KVIFF with the director Alexander Hant, whose shy and humble manner is in surprising contrast to his fast-paced and brightly coloured film, was a standout of this year’s East of the West competition, and ended up winning the main prize of the section.
Your film had its world premiere last night in a beautiful cinema in Karlovy Vary. How do you feel about that now?
Alexander Hant: I cannot really assess how it was. We worked on the film for two years and lots of things happened to me during that time. I’m very critical of myself, so when I saw the film on the screen together with an audience, I saw all the mistakes. But I’m happy with it overall.
What was it that happened to you in between?
AH: When I saw the first cut, I thought it was terrible. It was a catastrophe. I thought I must change my profession. Nothing serious in general, but it was a crisis for me, personally. We had six more months of editing and it was a hard period in my life.
I hope it’s still okay for you to talk about the film…
AH: Of course.
The script has won some awards. How come this became your first feature film?
AH: When I met my producer, I had another script I had written together with a scriptwriter. It was about a prison. I showed it to my producer and he said he couldn’t find money for this story, but he said he had another script for me. I read it, as it was already finished and had won some kind of script festival. I liked it and thought okay, my script can wait.
That sounds like quite a different film to make, though.
AH: I have this problem: I want to shoot dramas because I love dramas but when I film something, I always go to comedy, to the absurd. So, I really want to do a drama about a prison but it’s difficult.
The film has dramatic elements as well. How did you balance them with the humour?
AH: I want to ask that from you, because it’s not easy for me to say what it is: a comedy, tragedy or something in between. How was it for you?
Well, it starts off as a crazy music video that draws you in and doesn’t give you a break, with two main characters that are extremely unlikeable. They’re terrible people. So, you don’t mind when they try to destroy each other, but you grow to like them and the film reflects it in the way they’re shown. You see behind their shiny first impression and what ultimately connects them is that they’re both not as cool as they think they are.
AH: If you’re telling the truth, then this is it. It’s what we were trying to create. To start off as a comedy about these terrible guys but after a while you really feel this father and son making a connection.
What was different in the first cut that you mentioned?
AH: It was two hours and twenty minutes long. While I was shortening it, I tried to find music for it too. I made lots of decisions and I always changed edits for the music.
Did you have some songs in mind before shooting?
AH: I found all the songs in the film during the last editing period. It’s the music the main character listens to, which was the right decision, I think. I used Russian folk music before. Then I had Gershwin, also very different. I tried to contrast the film with music, which helped me through editing. Seeing the first cut,I thought it was very strange and it seemed more like I wanted to have Gershwin in the film but not what the story demanded. So, I deleted all music and started anew.
The visual style with the wide-angle lens shots and the bright and contrasted colours really stays in mind – how did you develop that?
AH: My director of photography and I already did some short films together and used these lenses there. We also saw a lot of films by Wong Kar-Wai, like Happy Together, and loved this style. We tried to make the film feel unreal even though it’s based on a somewhat realistic story. Like in a fairy-tale.
This is exactly what I wanted to refer to, regarding the title. Was the fairy-tale idea part of the script you received?
AH: When we were in pre-production choosing objects, places and costumes, we decided that we would try to find colour and grotesque. So, I thought, we should maybe do a fairy-tale. A tragic fairy-tale.
Looking at the films of recent years that have come out of Russia big, it’s mostly dramas that portray the country as grey. Yet your film is totally different. Was is your intent to crush that image?
AH: When we went to the city where we were shooting, we were so tired of grey things, so we tried to find another Russia. Because I think there is another non-grey Russia. It was our decision to find these places with colour in the real world, not just add it in post.
In the face of that, what do you think of the chances of a film like yours in Russia?
AH: I don’t know. I don’t have hopes, because our viewers don’t go to the cinema. They hate Russian cinema and I understand that because we need to change the situation in our film industry. All of us, directors, creators, should try to catch different stories about our country. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t have government funding. It is very bureaucratic. We need more cheaper films, indie films. They give you freedom. With government money, you go through this system that you have to spend a lot of energy on. I want to do films without the big money.
So, you are continuing with filmmaking after all?
AH: I still do. I need some money for the prison story, that is impossible to make otherwise. I am also writing a script about a real story of two teenagers. It’s very tragic and it happened last year. A young boy and a girl of about 14 years old had run away from their families and went to a house where they filmed themselves for three days before shooting themselves, live, on the internet. When I saw this footage, I felt really close to them – they are not strange at all. Nobody near them understood them. The police and family surrounded the house during their lock-up but tried to stop them with a lot of force, instead of empathy. They felt like heroes in a film, they referenced Bonnie and Clyde.
Do you think there is a generational problem of communication in your country?
AH: Yes, things changed a lot after the USSR. The generation of our parents is completely different from ours and we don’t understand each other. We live in two different worlds.
Well it doesn’t sound like you could accidentally make a comedy out of that.
AH: Yeah. But I also don’t want to make it a social film that is hyper-realistic. I think the boy and girl had like a period of complete freedom for these three days. As if a new world with new feelings opened for them. So, I want to find out what decisions they took while making a film of their own lives for everyone to see.